The Thrill of Hope

The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn’

This lyric comes from one of my favorite Christmas carols: “O Holy Night.” I’ve always been captivated by the curious phrase, the thrill of hope. I’ve always wondered something. What is it, exactly, that makes hope thrilling?

Thrilling isn’t usually how we think about hope:

We hear about false hope all of the time.

People use the word hopefully when they really want something to happen (but they’re pretty sure it won’t).

Some use the word hope frequently because they’re positive people who like to express a general sense of optimism.

We talk about hope as a feeling or a vaguely positive emotion one experiences from time to time.

We’re quick to point out when someone has lost hope or gives up hope.

If we’re being honest, the idea of hope being thrilling is odd. Roller coasters are thrilling. A basketball game that goes into overtime is thrilling. Bungee jumping is thrilling (I’ve heard). How can hope be thrilling?

I believe it all comes down to what or whom is the object of our hope. Hope can be thrilling as long as it is built on something that is trustworthy and sure.

Hope isn’t thrilling if it is built on my desire to see the Colts to win the Super Bowl. It’s not thrilling if I’m brimming with confidence that my favorite politician will keep all of his or her promises when he or she is in office. Hope doesn’t thrill if it depends upon seeing my lottery numbers on the screen. And, hope doesn’t thrill when I’m leaning all of my weight on a job, a hobby, or a relationship for a sense of purpose or wholeness.

Hope is thrilling, however, if it is built on something true, real, right, and good.

What is hope?

When Christians talk about hope, the thrilling kind of hope from the Christmas song, we aren’t attempting to manifest something that isn’t real. We’re not engaged in wishful thinking or conjuring up what we wish for by the power of positive thinking. We’re not being irrational, weak, or dishonest. Nor are we ignoring or making light of the obvious pain, angst, suffering, and brokenness of the world in which we live. When Christians talk about hope, we’re making a powerful statement about the truest truths, the real-est realities, and the certain-est certainties. Real hope is built upon the truth of what God has done and the absolute certitude, on that basis, that he will do what he has promised to do.

The thrill of hope

Hope is thrilling—at Christmastime and throughout the year—because the reality of that miracle-baby in the manger is the God-man on the cross, the risen and eternal Savior. We can be thrilled will hope because we know that he will return to bring us home.

I pray that your heart leaps with joy, anticipation, and excitement this Christmas, that you experience the thrill of hope about which you’ll sing.

O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born

The Best Antidote to Unhealthy Theology

A few days ago, a member at my church got in touch with me about some unhealthy theology that a loved one of hers was beginning to wade into. This person had stumbled across a theologian whose teaching had raised her suspicions. She was determined to understand the teaching she was dealing with and she wanted to be able to point her loved one toward better alternatives.

She was right to be concerned.

Her loved one had stumbled across the late Clark Pinnock and some of his writings about a concept called open theism. This is the teaching that some aspects of the future remain unknown, at least with certainty, to God. While Pinnock and other open theists state that parts of the future are unknown to God, the Bible says otherwise. God is omniscient. “God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act” (Grudem, 1994, p. 190).

  • God knows himself so when he reveals himself to us we can trust him.
  • God knows all things including the entire realm of possibilities that may result from the hundreds of choices each of us make every single day.
  • And, God knows all of it in one panorama; where we see one or two pixels at a time he sees the entire sweep of history all at once and in high-definition.

Wow!

I don’t know about you. It’s comforting to me to know that we serve a God who is wise enough to know everything that has, is, or will ever happen and, at the same time, good enough that he allows his creatures to experience free will. We err greatly when we believe and teach, as Pinnock did, that our own choices trump God’s knowledge. And we err greatly when we believe and teach, as some have done, that God’s omniscience reduces us to mere puppets on a string or resigns us to hopeless fatalism. God is good and wise enough to hold both of those tensions in perfect, divine balance.

So, what’s the best antidote to unhealthy theology?

When I consider all of this, I can’t help but think that it’s pure wonder. What else can you do? How else can you react? Since we serve a God this great, there’s little else to do than to be in awe.

Each of us may carry around elements of unhealthy theology. Hold them up to the light of the truth of God’s character. Wonder at his grandeur and goodness. That’s the best antidote to unhealthy theology.


Reference: Grudem, W. (1994). Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Fireflies And Wonder

fireflies-and-wonder

Driving home late last night, I noticed firefly lights in the fields beside the highway and was captivated by the sight of them whizzing past the passenger window.

It’s amazing how many of my happy memories are tied to fireflies and summer nights.

I remember catching them in the back yard. I’d run around armed with a glass jar with holes punched in the lid and a tuft of grass in the bottom. I believed that if I caught enough I could use the jar as a nightlight at bedtime.

I remember sitting at the campfire at my church camp. I would watch its embers rocket toward the treetops above me as firefly lights burned in the forest around me and over the edge of the lake.

After summer Vacation Bible School, my friends and I would play tag in the five-acre playground, lot, and wooded area in the back of the church property as fireflies floated all around us.

Have you ever stood at the edge of the woods on a humid June night and found yourself amazed at the thousand incandescent points of firefly light dancing in the darkness?

It’s an incredible sight, but completely unnecessary.

Have you ever thought about that?

It’s true! The only possible purpose for fireflies has to be to make us feel wonder. Why else would they exist? There’s probably an insect enthusiast who would tell me that their function is to spread pollen between plants or to feed bats. But, surely they could have accomplished their purpose without illuminated rear ends.

Fireflies and wonder. There’s no other possibility.

Driving home last night, I was impressed by the fact that I worship an utterly benevolent, loving Creator. He didn’t have to give fireflies their lights. They’re completely unnecessary. They could have been just another species of insect simply doing their thing. But, I think God knew there would be a little boy who would gather them in a jar, watch them dance at church camp, admire them while playing tag with his friends, and experience the type of awe and wonder that would well up into worship as a grown man.

God is just that good.

What about you?

What seemingly simple or unnecessary bit of creation makes you experience wonder? Have you told God how grateful you are?

There Will be Tears in Heaven

there-will-be-tears-in-heaven

Eric Clapton wrote one of the most honest, tender and heartbreaking songs ever written, Tears In Heaven. He wrote it from the depth of emotion he experienced after the untimely and tragic death of his young son. The lyrics strike a chord. You can hear the heart of a grieving father:

Would you know my name if I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same if I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on, ’cause I know I don’t belong here in heaven.

Would you hold my hand if I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand if I saw you in heaven?
I’ll find my way through night and day, ’cause I know I just can’t stay here in heaven.

Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees.
Time can break your heart, have you begging please, begging please.

Beyond the door there’s peace I’m sure.
And I know there’ll be no more tears in heaven.

What sadness. What strong sentiments. And, what a beautiful song. These thoughts, like so many of humanity’s great thoughts, find their origin in the Bible:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away,” (Revelation 21:3-4).

Tonight, we spent some time crying with friends about a difficult situation they’re facing. There were lots of tears. While we were there, I caught myself daydreaming about heaven and thinking about how nice it will be to be in a place where there are no more tears, no more heartache and no more pain. The verses from Revelation 21 ran through my mind. And, it caused me to realize something:

There will be tears in heaven.

The Apostle John says it right there. Reread the text. No matter what Mr. Clapton and a lot of Christians might say, there will be tears in heaven. Why? Maybe they’ll be tears of joy and elation. Maybe they’ll be tears of sorrow and regret. Maybe they’ll be tears of awe and wonder.

But, neither the presence of the tears nor the cause of the tears are the point of the text. The main point is different:

Our Savior is going to be there, near us, to physically wipe the tears from our eyes.

What comfort! What encouragement! What anticipation!

As wonderful as heaven is going to be—even though there will be tears there—it is possible to experience that eternal kind of life right here and right now. Jesus may not be physically present to wipe your tears but I am. God almighty sees your sadness, grief, sorrow and pain. So do we. He knows the cause, he knows what you’re feeling and he knows how things will turn out. I don’t; but I’m going to wait with you to find out. Until heaven, he uses brothers and sisters in Christ to be the ones to wipe the tears from our eyes and wrap arms around our sagging shoulders.

And, as we bear one another’s burdens in this way, we anticipate that wonderful day in Jesus’ comforting presence when he’ll take over and make everything OK.

Introverts And Wonder

introverts-and-wonder

In the introduction of her excellent book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain points out that introverts are more likely to ask what-if questions than extroverts.

That’s me!

Truths about Introverts and Wonder

I didn’t know this tendency was in any way tied to my personality. But, I’m glad it is! While it might be more natural for introverts like me to wonder about stuff—to ask what-if questions—it’s a discipline that is central to so many things for all of us. Here are just a few:

What-if questions are essential to creative endeavors.

Innovation simply isn’t possible without the ability to ask what-if questions. What if I pour lemonade into my iced tea? Bam! The Arnold Palmer is created. What if we strapped some brave people to a rocket and pointed it at the moon? Bam! The space age is born. What if we could put a personal computer in every home? Bam! Microsoft and Apple make billions of dollars. What if we speed up these atomic particles and make them collide? Bam! … Bam! You get the idea. Every creative innovation or endeavor begins with someone who asks a what-if question.

What-if questions can be powerful catalysts for spiritual growth.

I recently glanced over the notes in my Bible app and was astonished by how frequently I use phrases like, “I wonder” and “what if.” I believe wonder is a central characteristic of people who place themselves on a trajectory of spiritual growth. When we begin asking those questions, we begin a dialogue that opens us up to new ways of seeing things and it helps us better internalize and apply what we’re reading so it becomes a vital, living relationship with the Creator and not just a cursory, religious activity.

What-if questions are a key characteristic of people who lead.

A leader has to be someone who is constantly asking what-if questions. Questions about direction. Questions about resources. Questions about vision and values. Questions about the future. In fact, the alternative to the willingness to ask what-if questions for a leader is stagnation, inertia, the status quo. It takes bravery for a leader to ask what-if questions, even more courage to act on them. But, they’re essential for leaders and their organizations if they intend to move forward.

As a proud introvert, I’m excited to read the rest of Quiet and to continue asking what-if questions as I move into the future.

What about you?

What if you were to ask more what-if questions at home, at work, at church and in your relationships? I wonder what might happen as a result?